cover image Ash Before Oak

Ash Before Oak

Jeremy Cooper. Fitzcarraldo, $17.95 trade paper (528p) ISBN 978-1-910695-89-0

A disarming and gorgeously rendered portrait of interiority, Cooper’s novel, his U.S. debut, takes the form of a nature journal. In his 50s, the nameless and troubled narrator has moved from London to the southwest of England, revitalizing an old country estate. In short, often burstlike journal entries, he reveals himself to be less of a naturalist than an appreciator of nature; he regularly lacks names for and knowledge about the wildlife that surrounds him. But what lies beyond his lovely descriptions of his projects and his sightings is a searing and affecting tale of a man who has no desire to live. His daily goals become reasons for survival, and each date in the journal represents one more day he has not been defeated. The novel’s genius lies in what goes unsaid, and in the gaps between entries—what the narrator keeps from readers is the most haunting plot of all. This meandering novel is one of quiet beauty, and brief flashes of joy among seasons of despair. A study in how writing can give lives meaning, and in how it can fail to be enough to keep one afloat, this is a rare, delicate book, teeming with the stuff of real life. (Sept.)